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Oakdale pilot who crashed was headed for Massachusetts for missing man formation, friend says

The wreckage of a small plane that crashed

The wreckage of a small plane that crashed Saturday morning in a field at Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck. Credit: John Roca

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Vera Chinese, Joan Gralla, David Olson, Ted Phillips and Jean-Paul Salamanca.

The pilot and passenger killed when a single-engine plane crashed in a North Fork farm field were identified Sunday by the Town of Southold police chief as Robert Mark, 66, and Susan Quagliano, 57, both of Canal Road in Oakdale.

The Beechcraft A36 Bonanza took off about 9 a.m. Saturday from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, where it was based, and crashed around 9:15 a.m. at Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck, according to aviation officials.

Mark was piloting the plane, officials said. According to a friend who flew with Mark, he was headed to Massachusetts to participate in a missing man formation flight to honor a deceased pilot.

Mark was a very experienced pilot who had been flying for about 30 years, logging over 10,000 hours of flying, said Scott Press, a surgeon who was part of a flying group with him. Mark led formation flights with up to 120 planes and instructed people on them.

Press estimated Mark flew about three times a week, including on Wednesday nights, when their group would fly places for dinner. “When this kind of thing happens, you think someone with this kind of experience, it couldn’t happen to them,” said Press, 54, of Setauket.

Mark also volunteered with a nonprofit that airlifts cancer patients for free between their homes and hospitals, Press said. “He was a salt of the earth type of guy. He would help anybody,” Press said.

He was also a “Renaissance man,” a former ski instructor and short-order cook who was knowledgable on a wide variety of subjects, Press said.

“The running joke was if you didn’t know it, Robert probably knew how to do it,” Press said.

Quagliano, Mark’s partner of about 15 years, was a friendly and upbeat person who enjoyed woodworking, Press said.  

On the front door of the home the victims shared in Oakdale, a note posted Sunday appealed for privacy.

“Please respect our time of grief,” said the note, taped to the door.

The two victims were identified by Town of Southold police chief Martin Flatley.

A dog in the plane escaped the wreckage, and a nearby farmer took the pet in, said Lt. Richard Perkins of Southold Town police.

Neighbors remembered the couple as friendly and generous.

“Rob and Sue were the kindest people,” said Joyce Sims, who lives down the street from their house. Sims said she and her husband, Eddie, knew the couple for many years and had flown with Mark.

“He was so generous and so kind, not only to me and my husband but also to my girls,” she said.

“I’m so shocked,” she said of their deaths.

Sims said once when she was in upstate New York and had a migraine, Mark flew up and brought her back in his plane so she wouldn’t have to spend hours on the road.

Sims said she and her husband vacationed with the couple and went on ski trips together.

“He’s going to be missed,” she said.

Sims said when they flew together, Mark was “the safest person” and always went over safety checks before they flew.

“He would tell us exactly what to expect, kind why stewardesses do, ‘this is your safety check’,” she said.

She said Mark was involved in a program that flies donated organs to transplant recipients. “He agreed to help people like that,” Sims said.

“We look at his house and it’s not going to be the same,” she said.

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